Matt Hart’s ‘Wolf Face’

by Tony Aarts

Wolf Face
by Matt Hart
H_NGM_N BKS, 90 pp., $14.95

The first time I’d ever heard of Matt Hart’s poetry, it was through a sampling of poems taken from Who’s Who Vivid that I found online in anticipation of a reading he would later give at UNC-Greensboro. There was a particular line that stuck with me for days after first reading “Who’s Who Vivid in the Moonlight in Pain.” The line reads, “I speak and I’m stuck in it forever.” Like much of Hart’s work, the concept of vital motion and simple existence is never, ever taken lightly. For Hart, making one utterance, one thunderclap, one subtle glance in the dark is mercurial and lasting. This sense of import goes hand in hand, though. For all the vitality and exclamation in Matt Hart’s poems, there is also the admission that there are also choices that cannot be taken back, wounds that will be imparted. For myself, as a reader, it’s this sense of recognizing the blessing and the curse in being that makes Hart a great voice in poetry.

In his latest collection, Wolf Face (Light Headed just on its heels from BlazeVOX [Books]), Hart continues to mine the diorama of the self through poems that contort from the surreal to the ease of language seen in the New York School to the earnestness of Keats. Hart also continues to employ the imagery of the natural world along with the surprising appearances of the everyday made new. This collection of influences and images make for poems unmistakable. As much is made of voice and the trappings many poets find in navigating new palettes, Matt Hart seems inherently set on divesting poems that reel and contort with his own brand of circle pit longing alongside the honest tenor of life’s many paradoxical slings. This repeating chant is seen in “New-Fangled Air”

…— I’m just saying
Sometimes it’s you in your space ghost slipping, sometimes

a ragged philosophical flight You try on the argyle
but discard it seconds later You wonder at heartbeats

by flying a kite Of course, it’s okay if you don’t
understand me unraveling this way, because someday you will

It might seem easy to cite these ruminations in the abstract, but Hart, being a being of place, can’t stop taking in the world around him from the mythic to the most basic. Dumptrucks and pooling water, neighbors mowing their lawn, music on the radio, a cheese grater, The Clash, a doghouse, and the robin dead in the grass all reel through these poems, and in this attention to the world, all images gain meaning for simply existing. Hart also employs the off hand, free-falling tone when he writes lines like, “I can ride Pegasus anytime I feel.” or, “and anyway shadows are perfect.” and, “I could kiss their kitchen floor.” It is this abandon that also draws the reader closer to Hart; we hear a voice that bristles but can also smile, canter. One aspect of great enjoyment in poetry is showing a the breadth of emotion while remaining sincere. The use of the absurd and humorous can be very attractive to poets, but without the resolve to place honest vulnerability on the table, the poem may appear more posture than singing. Hart surely sings.

Throughout Wolf Face, Hart offers up these admissions of fear and uncertainty as is seen in “Matt Hart Running With Daisy, His Dog”

he wonders, as he often does, about the finish line,
the one which is his own yard, his front door, but also

the one he’s seen in his mind, never for long and never
for real, but that one, which, when it occurs to him, stops him
in his tracksuit. Sometimes, he thinks Daisy sees it too.

But unlike him, she runs for it as hard as she can,

For Hart, there seem to be totems to lean on in life. Often, these totems arrive from the animal world. As was seen in his previous collections, the presence of the natural world works as a sort of alter ego to his own emotional circuitry, this case being the close bond of a morning run and that pixelating end in the far distance seen by both animals. Going alongside the elements of the natural world and fantastic, the love for catalog and varying forms play out in this collection with gravity. By his own accounts, Matt Hart can see the years behind him and those before him. His thoughts rifle over those closest, and in poems like “Goodnight Everybody” the time spent between a father and daughter revolves under self doubts, fears, the need to find a home. The need to regard all things spins upon itself as the story renders image upon image.

So I read the baby
a story, which helps. Goodnight rabbit.
Goodnight old pal. Goodnight kerosene
lamp and glucose and glass of red wine
goodnight accordion and boa constrictor.
Goodnight hockey players bloodied in a fight.

Perhaps what I found most, well, amazing, about his new collection is the control of emotion Hart crafts while bursting with imagery and wild line. His ability to control the verve of his poems can come about in the locales of his Cincinnati, the daily run of events of the household, a backyard, or even the mention of friends and family. Having read his work previous, it humbles me to say, there is a note of having aged in these poems, of having earned the chance to be still and count the stripes of love and loss on the self. Maybe what makes Wolf Face so human is the selflessness Hart has in the effort to say it honestly, coated in the poet’s own skin(s) as the close of “Sailing the Gut Boat” remarks,

What I wouldn’t give
to be a lion in the mud, or the pig
in the lion’s mouth, or the lion tamer
in the pig’s mouth…At any rate,
I am not. I made you and I vanished,
and those are the only promises I’m keeping.


TONY AARTS is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was poetry editor for The Greensboro Review. His poems have appeared in Fou and Forklift, Ohio. He lives and works in Minneapolis, MN.